Why don't they prosecute?

By Patrisha McLean | Aug 06, 2020
Patrisha McLean is the founder and president of the non-profit organization Finding Our Voices.

Thursday July 30, 2020: Knox County Closed Cases

Arthur M. Andrews, 34, Camden, domestic violence assault, dismissed.

Joey Hopkins, 43, domestic violence terrorizing on June 24 in Warren, dismissed.

When people ask me what they can do to stop domestic violence, I always tell them: Read the “Cops and Courts” section of your local newspaper.  See how much of the crime in your community is domestic violence.  And then see the accountability from our courts for the most dangerous kind of criminals who would harm their own family members.

In January 2016, according to police records, a Camden man held his wife of 29 years captive on their bed and terrorized her for hours, knocking the landline out of her reach when she tried to call for help. He squeezed her skull with the palms of his hands and bruised her body. She was able to flee to the bathroom and lock the door, and he broke down that door to get to her.

Lt. Michael Geary said his department compiled as thorough and meticulous a file on this case as they ever had for a domestic violence case, and the file was passed on to the Knox County District Attorney’s office.

The District Attorney’s office filed six criminal charges against the perpetrator. A few months later they entered into a “Deferred Disposition” plea deal with him: Two of the charges were dismissed. He plead guilty to the remaining four charges and with a year of “good behavior” the most serious charge of domestic violence assault would be wiped clean off his record.

The sole punishment for the criminal acts outlined above, with police photos of the injuries and cracked door and the victim willing to testify? A fine of less than $4,000.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald who helped to broker this plea deal told the Bangor Daily News that the outcome “was comparable to similar [domestic violence] cases.”

What has happened in our District Attorney’s office in the four years since then?

In November 2018, Natasha Irving was elected to District Attorney on a platform that included increasing investigation and prosecution for domestic violence.

In April of this year, Christopher Fernald was promoted— to Deputy District Attorney.

And the obscenely lax sentencing for violent domestic abusers in Knox and Waldo counties continues.

Late last year, Stephen Russell from Appleton strangled his wife then a short time later, violated bail conditions to strangle her again, plus drag her up the stairs by the leg, naked, and all of this in front of their two small children. Among the charges filed against him by the District Attorney was felony aggravated assault for the strangulation,  which carries a possible sentence of 10 years in jail.

The victim broke a silence of seven or so years to tell police and prosecutors about these rampages as well as routine strangulations throughout her marriage.

She was willing to testify in court.

The District Attorney’s office, proffering plea deals to perpetrators like boxes of chocolates again, reduced the strangulation charge from a felony carrying a potential 10 years of jail to a misdemeanor carrying a maximum year in jail. The perpetrator was allowed to plead “no contest” to all the charges, so not giving the victim even the satisfaction of hearing her husband admit his guilt and also not having that admission of guilt on his criminal record.

For two strangulations plus violating bail conditions, and a myriad of other violent offenses, he was sentenced to only six months in jail. But it gets worse — a month of this sentence was knocked off and no one from the District Attorney’s office including their  “victim advocate” notified the victim that the dangerous person — from whom she was frantically trying to keep her and her two kids safe with a move to another house in the short time she thought she had allotted to her while he was behind bars — was now back on the streets. She was still in their old home, and he knew the address.

And here is the same time frame and same District Attorney jurisdiction, Waldo County office. On Christmas Eve a young woman and mother of three small children, according to the police report filed by Sgt. Scott M. Quintero, “tried to get her husband out of bed. He got up and began to strangle her.”

“She had injuries on her neck that I know based upon my training, education and experience are consistent with strangulation. I noted that her voice was gravely which I have been trained can be consistent with a person who has been the recent victim of strangulation.”

“The injuries to her arms were the most significant injuries I have seen on a person’s arms in 11 years as a police officer. I would describe the injuries as shocking to the conscience.”

Elijah R. Harvey on January 20, 2020, was indicted on felony aggravated assault, domestic violence assault, and violation of conditions of release.

In 2012 a new Maine law enabled strangulation to be charged as a felony. “The immediacy and the dominance is far greater than backhanding someone or punching them,” the director of the state domestic abuse agency said at the time. “Even when the offender releases the pressure, the point’s been made: You could have been dead.”

A person who strangles their domestic partner is eight to 10 times more likely to kill their domestic partner as opposed to someone who does not.

But here again, our District Attorney’s office doled out another of its contravened-for-domestic-violence Deferred Disposition plea deals: The felony aggravated assault —whoosh, gone, and with it any chance of significant jail time.

If Harvey shows “good behavior,” the domestic violence assault and the violating conditions of release will be erased from his record.

It does not appear that either he or Russell were ordered to attend the 48-week Certified Batterer’s Intervention Program that has become common for domestic violence and according to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence is “designed to challenge the belief systems that support abusive behaviors, and to provide needed accountability to actually change behaviors.”

Harvey’s total punishment for the brutal Christmas Eve attack on a young woman? A $250 fine.

And what is left on his criminal record from injuries to a young woman a police officer reported were the worst he had seen on any individual in a decade on the force? Disorderly conduct. Dictionary definition for disorderly conduct: A petty offense chiefly against public order and decency that falls short of an indictable misdemeanor.

With no record of strangulation or any other kind of violence attached to his name, think about how many other women can be unwittingly lured into romantic entanglements with this 25-year-old who has decades of dating years ahead of him.

This is from the website of Natasha Irving under “A plan for our Community:” If someone hurts a family member, if they hurt a child, if they hurt anyone in our community, we’re going to prove it, insure they are punished and prevent them from having an opportunity to do harm to our community again.

Year after year, almost half of all homicides in Maine are as a result of domestic violence. Can it be a coincidence that year after year domestic abusers are coddled by prosecutors, at least in Knox and Waldo counties?

“Why doesn’t she leave” is the age-old question, sticking it to the victim about why she (or in some cases he) puts up with financial, emotional, sexual, physical abuse from the many sociopaths amongst us who masquerade as lovers.

That question needs to stop. Here is what we, as individuals, as a community and as a culture, need to be asking, especially as we head into month seven of a pandemic that makes it only scarier for our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, or ourselves, trapped with angry and controlling and violent partners:

“WHY DON’T THEY PROSECUTE?”

Patrisha McLean is a Camden-based photojournalist and the founder and president of the non-profit organization Finding Our Voices, committed to breaking the silence of intimate partner abuse all around Maine. It is this group's huge domestic-abuse banners in downtown business windows around the Midcoast.

www.Finding Our voices.net

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Alan Charles Pickering | Aug 10, 2020 08:45

Domestic abusers are often former victims who are continuing an sometimes generational family problem. Since they can’t control their behavior they need to experience time in jail if for no other reason than to give their family some relief. First offenders should get jail time and lots of therapy, second offenders should get 10 years.   When I was a police officer back in the Stone Age many officers would do nothing but chat with the offender and leave. The law changed and it became easier to arrest the offender and I arrested dozens of them. Most were bailed and their victim often ignored their protection order and invited them home. It is complicated.



Posted by: Anthony Charles Kulik | Aug 07, 2020 08:42

What is the legal process for a court case to be dismissed? I am astounded at the number of domestic violence cases that are dismissed.. Is it based on legal criteria or an arbitrary decision?



Posted by: Susan Manning | Aug 07, 2020 07:03

We need to stop blaming the victim.  We need to prosecute the domestic violent abuser, send him (or her) to prison and take away the key.  I am the mother of a victim of domestic violence.  I love the Finding Our Voices banners in Rockland and I appreciate the businesses who have put them in their store fronts.

 



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